Population Control – Is Anyone Willing to Talk About It?

  • Published on March 27th, 2009

//www.flickr.com/photos/anniemole/63845419/)Scott Cooney of Red, Green, and Blue recently wrote a thought provoking post about the need for population control as a fundamental and necessary tool to deal with a wide range of environmental crises. He refers to population control as the elephant in the room when it comes to policymakers. This is certainly an apt description of the issue, and it may even be considered an understatement. I would go so far as to say that population control is regarded as political suicide and a topic that is seemingly avoided at all costs.

Even though the rapid growth of the human population is such an obvious concern, very few people outside of the academic world and some dedicated NGOs are willing to discuss the issue. The earth’s population is projected to rise an astonishing 40% to 9.2 billion people by 2050! This level of increase will put tremendous strain on a wide range of already-stressed resources, including food stocks, fresh water, precious metals, and of course fossil fuels.

So why are policymakers so reluctant to approach this issue? The problem is that population growth is seen to be inextricably tied to economic growth. Does anyone know of a politician or governing party in a major industrialized nation that has tried to implement population control policies specifically because of the impact on the earth? Population growth represents prosperity and desirability, while population losses conjure up visions of boarded up buildings on Main Street and Rust Belt decline.

Surprisingly it is not just the politicians that are avoiding this can of worms. Even the activists stay away from it. David Suzuki, one of the most beloved and revered environmental spokesmen in Canada, is refusing to address the issue in an official capacity. A good friend of mine met Dr. Suzuki at a book signing a few years ago just before he was traveling to China to meet his new adopted daughter. My friend wanted Suzuki to sign the book to his new daughter and mentioned the upcoming adoption during the signing. Instead of congratulations, what he received from Suzuki was an insensitive (although arguably valid) diatribe about the irresponsibility of bringing a child from a low-consumer country (China) to a high-consumer country (Canada). Obviously Suzuki recognizes that population is a critical issue, but when reporter Hans Tammemagi asked the David Suzuki Foundation why they don’t include the population issue in their programs he was told “We only deal with Canada, and it has a small population”.

Even though slowed or negative population growth makes sense from a resource and environmental perspective, we need to be realists about how we approach the issue. If population control goes too far there will not be enough working-age people to support the social safety nets and tax base that is required to maintain a functional and productive society. This has been a problem in certain European countries that are experiencing negative growth rates, aging populations, and inverse population pyramids.

It is obvious that there are a lot of questions to be asked about population control.

What is the optimal population level to ensure that society can continue to provide fundamental services to its citizens but will not exhaust the finite resources of the earth?

Where do developing nations fit into the issue of population control? Much of this post has discussed the issue from the perspective of industrialized nations. Devleoping countries have much higher rates of population growth but they also have lower per-capita resource consumption rates and higher infant mortality rates.

One thing is for certain – it is frustrating to try to find the answers to these questions when nobody seems to want to talk about the problem.

Stephen Boles is co-founder of Kuzuka, a marketplace website that will bring a new level of convenience and confidence to carbon offset customers. Kuzuka also provides consulting services to organizations that want to assess and reduce their corporate carbon footprint.

About the Author

Steve Boles doles out thoughtful commentary about all the latest issues, news blips and misconceptions surrounding the growing green movement as a contributor to Red, White, and Blue and his personal blog The Buzz (http://thebuzz.kuzuka.com). Steve spent seven years working as a scientist at one of the world’s leading climate change research centers, the Institute for Earth Oceans and Space (EOS) at the University of New Hampshire. Steve recently moved his family to small-town Ontario, Canada. Steve and his wife, Jenni, recently co-founded a company called Kuzuka. Kuzuka is a marketplace for carbon offsets that will bring a whole new level of convenience and confidence to individuals and businesses choosing to offset their tread on this planet. Kuzuka also provides carbon management services to businesses that are interested in measuring and reducing their corporate carbon footprint.
  • Is the Proposed Trans Global Highway a solution for population concerns and global warming?
    One tremendous solution to future population concerns as well as alleviating many of the effects of potential global warming is the proposal for the construction of the “Trans Global Highway”. The proposed Trans Global Highway would create a world wide network of standardized roads, railroads, water pipe lines, oil and gas pipelines, electrical and communication cables. The result of this remarkable, far sighted project will be global unity through far better distribution of resources, including including heretofore difficult to obtain or unaccessible raw materials, fresh water, finished products and vastly lower global transportation costs.
    With greatly expanded global fresh water distribution, arid lands could be cultivated resulting in a huge abundance of global food supplies. The most conservative estimate is that with the construction of the Trans Global Highway, the planet will be able to feed between 14 and 16 Billion people, just using presently available modern farming technologies. With a present global population of just under 7 billion people and at the United Nations projection of population increase, the world will produce enough food surpluses to feed the expected increased population for the next 425 years. Thomas Robert Malthus’s famous dire food shortage predictions of 1798 failed to take into consideration modern advances in farming, transportation, food storage and food abundance. Further information on the proposed Trans Global Highway can be found at http://www.TransGlobalHighway.com .

  • T J Carter

    It is very simple to me. You are going to have to control the population or end of the human race is certain. I have seen the world change in my life time. Springs and creeks drying up. Streams that have to be stocked with fish or they would be lifeless. Animals already disappearing at an alarming rate. I think even harsher measure than China has implemented should go in place. It is time that selective breeding is considered. I would rather this than the end of the human race and mass extension of most animal species.

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  • Jim Renner

    As with many issues, vocabulary is important. Phrases like "population control" are guaranteed to incite some knee-jerk, unreasonable reaction. Is there a substitute term? If there is, perhaps it leads us to a broader set of alternative solutions. The problem of soiling our own nest is rooted in unchecked population growth and might be diminished by population control, but it's also rooted in ever-increasing consumer demands and seemingly limitless technology to supply the demands. Unfortunately, proposing limits on consumer demand are almost as politically suicidal as proposing population control, but I suspect we have more options, some of which can operate in the marketplace (such as increased rates for increased water consumption). So while we work on the agonizingly slow cultural changes that may lead to population control, we should also expend do whatever we can to reduce consumer demand. If you are a couple with one kid and you live in a 5000 sq ft house, it's not sustainable, no matter how much insulation you have.

  • Bob

    Even unreasonable people have to admit there is a point when there will be too many people. Would you consider it if there were 1 trillion people? Or should we let nature take its course and we consume ourselves into extinction with the rest of the natural world?

  • mickeycz

    US Census projections postulate a 0.5 % rate of growth by 2050, down from the current rate of about 1.2%.

    (http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idb/worldgrgraph.html)

    Who knows, maybe we will have another century such as the 20th, where wars and repressive political systems took out a spare 100 million or so.

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  • John

    Stephen and Scott,

    You guys should take the lead to abort your children and kill yourself and your family in the name of population control. And maybe you can also ask war criminal Henry Kissenger if he would also like to volunteer as he has advocated millions of deaths in 3rd world countries using food as a weapon per State Department Memorandum 200.

  • Stephen,

    Thanks for the post and the reference to my earlier article. I think, as with many topics that are too hot to touch for politicians, population issues need to be addressed outside the political realm as much as they are within the political realm. While policy is important, as I discussed in my post, it's also crucial for each of us to support the issues we care about in other ways, such as supporting Planned Parenthood, advocating for economic opportunities for women in developing countries, and even encouraging our friends and family to think about the broader concepts of population and finite resources.